James Madison Papers

James Madison to Nicholas P. Trist, 26 January 1828

Montpellier Jany 26. 1828

Dear Sir

Your favours of the 18th have been duly recd. I am sorry you thought an apology necessary for the delay in sending me the residue of my letters to Mr. Jefferson, and rather surprized that you should be scrupulous of reading them. I took for granted that you would regard them, as on his files equally open tho less entitled to inspection than his to me. In forwarding the parcels you are so obliging as to gather for me, it may be best to wait for a private & direct conveyance, if such an one be near in prospect: Otherwise, there is so little risk in so short a distance by the mail, that I have no objection to that conveyance.

Before I recd. your letter I had not adverted to the criticism in the "Advocate" on Mr. Rush, nor even read the criticism on the criticism; being diverted from it by the signature, which I ascribed to the Author who has published so much under it, and with whose views of every branch of the subject I thought myself sufficiently acquainted. I had indeed read but skimmingly the Treasury Report itself. I was certainly not struck with the passage in question as a heresy; and suspect it must have been misunderstood by those who denounce it as such.

How far or in what mode it may be proper to countervail by encouragements to manufact[ories] the invitations given to Agriculture, by superadding to other lands on the market the vast field of cheap and fertile lands opened by Congress, is assuredly a fair subject for discussion. But that such a field is as attractive to Agriculture as an augmentation of profits is to Manufactures, I conceive to be almost luce clarius. It is true that the enlarged sale of fertile lands, may by increasing the food & other articles on the Market, cheapen them to the manufacturer; and so far for a time at least, operate as an encouragement to him; but the advantage in this case bears no proportion to the effect of a redundancy of cheap & fertile lands, in drawing off capital as well as that class of the population from which manufactories are recruited.

The actual fall in the price of land, particularly in Virginia, may be attributed to several causes. 1. to the uncertainty & low prices of the crops. 2. to the quantity of land thrown into the market by debtors, and the defect of buyers, both owing to the general condition of the people, not difficult but unnecessary to be explained. But the 3d. and main cause is the low price at which fertile lands on the western market are attainable, tempting the owners here to sell out and convert the proceeds or as much of them as they can spare, into cheap & richer lands there.

Nothing would be farther from my wishes than to withold, at proper prices, a fair supply of the National domain to Emigrants whether of choice or of necessity: But can it be doubted that in proportion as that supply should be reduced in quantity or raised in price, emigration would be checked, and the price of land here augmented. Put the case that the dividing mountains were to become an impassable barrier to further emigration, is it not obvious that the price of land on this side, except so far as other temporary causes might be a check, would spring up the moment the fact was known? Or, take another case, that the population on the other side, instead of being there, had remained and been added to the number on this. Can it be believed that the price of land on this would be as low it is? Suppose finally a general reflux of the Western population into the Old States, the like effect on the price of land in the Old, can be still less doubted

That the redundancy of cheap land is unfavourable to manufactures, in a degree even beyond the comparative profitableness of the labour bestowed, is shewn by experience and is easily explained. The pride of ownership, where this exists or is expected, the air of greater freedom, the less of constancy and identity of application, are known to seduce to rural life, the drudges in workshops. What would be the condition of Birmingham or Manchester were forty or fifty millions of fertile acres, placed at easy distances, and offered at the price of our western lands? What a transfer of Capital and difficulty of retaining or procuring operatives would ensue? And altho the additions to the products of the earth by cheapening the necessaries of life might seem to favor manufactures, the advantage would be vastly overbalanced, by the increased price of labour produced by the new demand for it, and by the superior attractiveness of the agricultural demand.

Why do such numbers flee annually from the more populous to the less populous parts of the U. S. where land is cheaper? Evidently because less labour is more competent to a supply of the necessaries & comforts of life. Can an instance be found of emigrants from the soil of the west, to the manufactories of Massachts. or Pennsylvania

Among the effects of the transmigration from the Atlantic to the ultramontane regions, it is not to be overlooked, that besides reducing the price of land in the former, by diminishing the proportion of inhabitants, it reduces it still further by reducing the value of its products in glutted markets. This is the result at which the reasoning of the erased fairly arrived, and justifies the appeal made to the interest of the Southern farmers and planters, in chusing between consumers of their vendibles and rival producers of them.

But whilst I do justice to the successful reasoning in the case, I take the liberty of remarking, that comparing land with a machinery or a material, an important distinction should be kept in view. Land unlike the latter, is a co-operating self agent; with a surface not extendible by art, as machines, and in many cases materials also, may be multiplied by it. Arkwright’s machine which co-operates a thousand times as much with human agency as the earth does, being multipliable indefinitely, soon sinks in price to the mere cost of construction. Were the surface or fertility of the Earth equally susceptible of artificial & indefinite increase, the cases would be parallel. The earth is rather a source, than an instrument or material for the supply of manufactories; except in such cases as Pottery &c.

Having thus undertaken to criticize a Critic of a Criticism on a point of some moment perhaps, I will indulge the mood, as to a very minute one. You use the word doubtlessly. As you may live long & write much, it might be worth while to save the reiterated trouble of two supernumerary letters, if they were merely such. But if there be no higher authority than the Lexicography of Johnston, the ly. is apocryphal: and if not so, the cacophony of the elongated word ought to banish it; doubtless, being without doubt, an adverb, as well as an adjective, and more used in the former than the latter character.

Be in no hurry in returning Cooper’s pamphlet on Government. You may even return it, after your leisurely use of it, thro’ Mr. Lomax, if he wishes to see it, as I thought I perceived him to do, when last in conversation with him Adieu

James Madison

RC (DLC: Nicholas P. Trist Papers); draft (DLC).

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